May 24, 2002 | Page 8
ELIZABETH SCHULTE explains why socialists rely on the revolutionary newspaper as an organizer.
IT'S NOT hard to see what distinguishes Socialist Worker from a bosses' newspaper like the Chicago Tribune. Our paper takes the side of working people--and we're not ashamed to say so. But in important ways, SW is also different from other left-wing publications.
Like this alternative media, SW digs beneath the surface of important stories and exposes the lies that the politicians and their media helpers tell us. But Socialist Worker aims to do more. For a revolutionary socialist who is building an organization, a newspaper like SW is also a central organizing tool.
SW starts by pointing out what's wrong with society. But at all times, we try to show how these injustices are connected to the overall capitalist system--and how that system can be changed. That's why we put a stress on reporting on the struggles of ordinary people, wherever they fight back. Our aim is to share these stories with others fighting elsewhere.
The revolutionary paper can knit together these struggles and connect readers who may have never met one another, but have come to the conclusion that they share a common enemy.
Most importantly, SW argues for the need for organization. The Russian revolutionary Lenin explained why at the beginning of the 20th century. "The role of a newspaper is not limited solely to the dissemination of ideas, to political education, and to the enlistment of political allies," argued Lenin in a 1901 article called "Where to Begin?"
"A newspaper is not only a collective propagandist and a collective agitator, it is also a collective organizer. In this last respect, it may be likened to the scaffolding round a building under construction, which marks the contours of the structure and facilitates communication between the builders, enabling them to distribute the work and to view the common results achieved by their organized labor."
Because Lenin's Bolshevik Party in Russia was organizing under conditions of illegality, the party's newspaper became the way to build a network of militants, who contributed reports to it and distributed it. The newspaper would "train its members to follow political events carefully, appraise their significance and their effect on the various strata of the population, and develop effective means for the revolutionary party to influence these events," Lenin wrote.
Because Lenin and the Bolsheviks built up an audience for their paper over a period of years, when the First World War threw Russia into a revolutionary crisis, the Bolsheviks' paper Pravda became a genuine workers' paper.
In one year, workers provided some 11,000 letters and other articles to Pravda. In St. Petersburg, half of the papers' circulation was in factories. What's more, the workers who had been linked together by reading Pravda became a network of leaders, educated over the years in the basic ideas of socialism and the traditions of the workers' movement.
Ultimately, they became the heart and soul of the 1917 Russian Revolution--the tens of thousands of people in factories and neighborhoods in every city who took the lead in organizing the struggles that snowballed into an insurrection.
Obviously, the International Socialist Organization isn't operating under the same conditions as the Bolsheviks. But our newspaper is just as central to our organizing.
SW carries the news and analysis that people who want to change society need to know--and we provide a forum for activists in today's struggles to discuss our fight. By selling the paper in our workplaces, communities and schools, we build political relationships with people who come to see the socialists as people who are interested in discussing ways to change the status quo--and then putting these discussions into action.
The paper can become a lightning rod for grievances in a workplace, for example, as well as the discussion about what to do about them. And over time, it can convince its regular readers of the need to become active socialists--members of a socialist organization dedicated to changing society.
That's why we sell Socialist Worker--in workplaces, on campuses, on the street and in every campaign we're involved in.
How I use Socialist Worker
Thomas Barton, AFSCME Local 768, New York City
I WORK in a New York City public hospital. For years, Democrat and Republican tax cutters for the rich have been starving our public hospitals. Huge funding cuts mean layoffs, hiring freezes, poor wages, inadequate supplies, antiquated equipment and less health care for people who don't have health insurance at work.
When people read our paper, it creates a certain safety zone. We know who each other are. We know that we can take hope from stories about other working people in other places. We know that what we thought all along about the rotten scum who run this system is really true, and we're not nuts.
And when we decide we have to do something in our hospital to push back when things simply go too far--or just when we have something to say that we think is important--we know that there's a newspaper that will care about what we have to say and what we do.
Not everyone agrees with everything that's in the paper. But more and more of us agree with most of what is.
Beginnings are everything.
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Jessie Muldoon, California Teachers' Association, Oakland, Calif.
FOR THE past three years, I've worked at a public middle school in Oakland. During that time, I've tried to build political relationships with coworkers, both on the basis of school-related union issues and broader political issues. Over time, I've built up some credibility and am known as a socialist and a contributor to Socialist Worker.
SW has two roles in my workplace and with other union activists. It's there to highlight the importance of union activities--whether in my union or in others. And it provides an alternative to the corporate media.
When the general political climate heats up, as in the case of the protests against the WTO in Seattle or the presidential election fraud, discussing politics becomes easier. And when important political issues aren't being covered, or are badly covered, SW is a necessary alternative to the mainstream media.
Because of my activism at work and my identification as a socialist, people will find me to talk politics. This was particularly true during the war in Afghanistan, and it is again around the issue of Palestine.
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Donny Schraffenberger, steward, Teamster Local 705, Chicago
BESIDES HAVING regular weekly plant-gate sales, most of my sales to coworkers come through selling the paper during our lunch break in the cafeteria.
I have a core of five to eight people who buy the paper. Some will buy when a story strikes them as interesting, such as the struggle of the Palestinians.
Also, just because someone doesn't buy the paper now doesn't mean they won't tomorrow. Recently, a women driver who I had never tried to sell the paper to told me she was interested in reading a copy.
Also, a UPS driver who I hadn't seen in months told me that he has missed reading the paper. Now I need to get together with him to make sure he becomes a regular reader again, get him to events like Socialism 2002 and convince him to become an active socialist.